By Amlan Chakraborty
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - To get the best out of a bubble-weary squad in a COVID-19 world is never easy, but India combined empathy with a "kick in the backside" approach to get the job done in the just-concluded home test series against England.
Virat Kohli and most of his team mates have been hopping from one bio-secure bubble to another since last year's Indian Premier League in the United Arab Emirates.
Soon after the Twenty20 competition, they headed to Australia where they won the test series 2-1 before rushing home to host England.
"From when the season started, our main aim was to show empathy," India head coach Ravi Shastri told Star Sports on Saturday after India's 3-1 series victory against England.
"Empathy, because these are tough times - you've not seen these times since the World War II," he said. "For professional players, when they're under the hammer, it is really tough to get your best and deliver for your country."
As in Australia, India lost the series opener against England, prompting the team management to take the other approach.
"The first test in Chennai would have been different if we had a few more days off," Shastri said.
"It's no excuse - England outplayed us there, but the boys were like zombies, they were tired.
"But then a kick on the backside to reignite the pride in the system can make a lot of difference. And it showed in the last three tests."
Stumper-batsman Rishabh Pant was probably its biggest beneficiary. The 23-year-old appears to have worked on his fitness, overcome his tendency to gift his wicket and fine-tuned his keeping skills.
"He was told in no uncertain terms that he's got to respect the game a little more," Shastri said. "He's got to lose a bit of weight, he's got to work hard on his keeping... He's a genuine match winner and he's worked like hell over the last three or four months."
Player-of-the-series Ravichandran Ashwin spoke of the monotony in "claustrophobic" hotel rooms and the craving for "fresh air" but felt bubble life may have helped the team gel better.
"The kind of bonding that team has built because of these bio-bubbles is something that I have not experienced in the last decade of cricket."
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by William Mallard)